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Mark Duff has spent three years researching his side of the family and plans to help his wife research her family. Duff is shown here with Beth Mariotti, director of the Godfrey Memorial Library. | Joy VanderLek/The Cheshire Citizen

‘Nuts and bolts’ of genealogy explained

Genealogy is a hot topic. Between hit shows on TV like “Who Do You Think You Are” to online services such as Ancestry.com, genealogy as a hobby is enjoying huge popularity.

Many would-be ancestry sleuths got a chance to find out just how to go about a family roots search with The Cheshire Public Library’s recent program “A Step by Step Guide to Finding Your Ancestors.”

The featured speaker of a recent Friends of the Cheshire Public Library presentation was Beth Mariotti, director of the Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown, a library founded by “an avid genealogist” and open to the public for the express purpose of genealogy research.

“We received a grant from CT Humanities to make many of the materials described tonight, such as church records and funeral records, available online to patrons of the Godfrey. They have been a generous supporter of our goal to inform and engage the public in learning about history through understanding the individuals who lived it.”

Mariotti’s program concentrated on the “nuts and bolts” of genealogy, which included organizing and useful databases. She also detailed five fundamental steps helpful for those interested in researching their family trees. Preparation, of course, is crucial. Researchers should use a software program for genealogy, such as Family Treemaker, keep a binder, as she does and “keep track of citations,” so you can go back to your information when you want and not lose the trail.

“There’s a lot out there, and sometimes when people start I think they don’t know how much there is to find. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. So partly it’s learning about history, learning about what documents might have been available.”

The census is the “core research document” when you get started, said Mariotti. It tells you where the people were located, who was with them and the dates. Documents in your search should also include vital statistics, which can be obtained through vital records; military records, which can tell you about your ancestor’s service; and immigration records. Getting family histories, from documents such as postcards, letters, life and achievement certificates are also good building blocks of information. A word of warning, however: “The information is only as good as the person it came from,” said Mariotti. Make sure to find supporting information to back-up any oral family history.

“When I started genealogy, I didn’t think I liked history, but that’s been one of the really cool things about it. I’ve learned that I like history, because I am learning about it through the context of people who lived at that time.”

An elderly gentleman in the audience, Gordon Freeman, has only just started his research. He told the audience Google had been a good resource tool for him. Freeman talked about finding the location of the house in Maine where he lived as a young boy. “I remember that house,” he said pointing to the map he had printed out. “I was born in 1926 and I can remember an elderly man in that house who never got out of bed.” That was my great-grandfather, Freeman said, and then showed the relative’s death certificate in 1929. “I was only three years old, but I do remember him.”

Ruth Stanley is serious about her family history research. She brought along a good-sized, wire-bound binder full of notes. She and her brother want to one-day go “on a pilgrimage” to see the towns where their family members lived and worked, and the siblings hoped to stop into the brick and mortar buildings in those towns to see vital statistics and any other information they might find.



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